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Thread: 270 Miles Toward Recovery

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    270 Miles Toward Recovery

    270 Miles Toward Recovery
    More Than 1,200 Riders Travel From Ground Zero to Pentagon
    Bicyclists reach out to touch spectators as they finish their 3 day trip from Ground Zero to the Pentagon. (Lucian Perkins/TWP - The Washington Post)



    By Patricia Davis
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, September 23, 2002; Page B01


    When she heard about the bike ride from Ground Zero to the Pentagon, Maytal Serper, herself a victim of terrorism in another time and place, felt an instant connection. Right away, the 33-year-old knew she had to be part of the three-day, 270-mile commemorative trip from New York to Washington to honor those killed or injured Sept. 11, 2001.

    Six years ago, Serper lost her left leg and was burned over 70 percent of her body when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a pedestrian crossing in Tel Aviv. The terrorist attack killed her 21-year-old brother and 12 others.

    Late yesterday afternoon, under police escort and accompanied by three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, she arrived at the Pentagon pumping her three-wheeled cycle with her hands. She was joined by more than 1,200 other cyclists: firefighters, flight attendants, relatives of 9/11 victims, military personnel and ordinary folks touched firsthand or indirectly by last year's tragedy and stirred to do something to honor those lost or still suffering.

    Her thoughts on completing the weekend marathon? "It was awesome, especially the four last miles," Serper said after she and the other riders began pulling into the Pentagon's north parking lot about 4:20 p.m. "Seeing all the people screaming -- I'm speechless. It was an honor because I think I can give hope to people who need it."

    Several hundred people welcomed the cyclists, most of whom were clad in red-white-and-blue biking gear, many with small U.S. flags stuck in their helmets. Chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" rose from the crowd.

    "What better place to end it than in our nation's capital?" said Stephen Whisnant, executive director of World T.E.A.M. Sports, the Charlotte-based sports charity that created the event. "This is a celebration of life."

    The ride, called "Face of America 2002," was neither a race nor another fundraising vehicle for victims' families. With U.S. officials' attention now focused on searching for overlooked clues to the attacks, the ride, which began at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan on Friday morning, was meant to be a sign that the nation is moving forward, Whisnant said.

    Cyclists from 12 countries and 44 states took part, with the largest number from the New York and Washington areas, he said. Serper, a librarian from a small town in Israel, was one of 35 disabled riders who cycled with their hands, he added.

    Capt. Bob Gray was with a group of 10 Arlington County firefighters and paramedics who rode part or all of the course. Gray, one of the first to respond when hijackers slammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, said the three-day bike trip was "just a quiet remembrance" and a way to be with others who are still struggling with their physical or emotional scars.

    Because the Pentagon is in Arlington -- many people incorrectly place it in Washington -- the county fire department led the fire and rescue operation.

    "People are still having a hard time," Gray, 39, had said while headed for New York on Thursday. Relating how he spent the anniversary of the attacks with his family, he said: "It was a pretty heavy day to remember the evil we rolled up on that day."

    In Arlington alone, hundreds of county employees have been receiving counseling since the attacks. Many rescue workers have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder -- with several retiring on disability -- and some of their family members have been having a difficult time, according to Dodie Gill, director of the county's Employee Assistance Program and a participant in the ride.

    After getting to New York and away from the media and cameras, the Arlington contingent went on its own Thursday to see Ground Zero, where 343 firefighters were killed while trying to save lives Sept. 11. No firefighters died at the Pentagon, which was evacuated just before part of the building collapsed.

    "It kind of puts it in perspective for us," said Kevin Riordan, 37, an Arlington firefighter. "If we had that many killed, it would have wiped out our entire fire department."

    The toll from Sept. 11, including those who died on the plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, topped 3,000.

    Reflecting on her experience at Ground Zero, Gill said: "It was very somber. We were all really quiet. We all wanted to go together, away from the crowds. The smells were still there."

    The Face of America ride began at Ground Zero about 8:30 Friday morning with a ceremonial first leg through Manhattan before a ferry trip to New Jersey. The pace was rigorous for many: 72 miles the first day, 126 the next, 72 on the final leg. About two-thirds of the riders biked the entire route, Whisnant said.

    Although completing all 270 miles of the carefully charted course was a personal goal for some, the event was not built around that, said Whisnant, whose nonprofit organization brings diverse groups together, including those with disabilities, for sporting events. "It's about what you took away," he said.

    A team of doctors kept watch over the participants, some of whom chose vans and buses when the going got too tough.

    Kat Pachas, a United Airlines flight attendant who biked with her husband, Arlington Fire Capt. Kevin Pachas, began lagging at one point until firefighter Dan Fitch "literally pushed me on my back so we could finish as a team," she said.

    Kat Pachas was flying out of Dulles International Airport on Sept. 11 just as the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Her frantic husband no sooner got word that she was okay than he was paged to report to the Pentagon.

    Kevin Pachas said he was stunned during the cycling event when New York firefighters acknowledged their Arlington colleagues' efforts that day. "It isn't about us," said Pachas, comparing it to "being in the Little League and having a professional tell you you did a great job. We told them, 'We think about you a lot.' "

    Pachas's boss, Fire Chief Edward P. Plaugher, who led the fire and rescue operation at the Pentagon, was back there yesterday afternoon to cheer the riders as they arrived. "It's all about healing. It's all about moving forward," he said of the event. "It's all about the fabric of our nation."

    The ride ended with the cyclists and their supporters joining in an emotional singing of "God Bless America."


    © 2002 The Washington Post Company

    ==============================
    "It was once written "To thine own self be true". But how do we know who we really are? Every man must confront the monster within himself, if he is ever to find peace without. .." Outer Limits(Monster)

  2. #2
    Great news, great effort.

    I was invited on this ride but couldn't make it. I'm sure it was awesome.

    Onward and Upward!

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